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UR says it will not divest from academic programs in Israel, disputing claims by protesters

UPDATE: The encampment at the University of Rochester has relocated to the Eastman Quadrangle out front of Rush Rhees Library.

In recent social media and other online posts the student activists claim to have won concessions from UR to begin the process to academically divest from Israel. Such action might address things like study abroad or research partnerships. However, in a statement Thursday, a university spokesperson disputed those claims, writing:

“University of Rochester leaders need to provide clarification on the details of a meeting yesterday between student protesters and University administrators regarding protester demands. The students were demanding (1) a cease-fire call and (2) divestment from Israeli institutions. University administrators in fact made no commitment to either demand, but in particular made no commitment regarding a University divestment from any academic programs or ties with Israel, as is being inaccurately reported on some social media channels. University administrators made clear that neither demand was on the table. There has not and will not be any commitments about future academic divestment of University programs in Israel.”

The original story continues below.


More than a dozen identical tents peppered the lawn outside Wilson Commons — the student union — at the University of Rochester’s River Campus Tuesday.

By midday about 25 students were present, studying for classes on laptops, bringing cases of water bottles, and stringing up signs and banners like: “UR complicit in genocide,” and “We demand a ceasefire now.” There’s the occasional sound of a drum, sometimes music.

Most students declined to be interviewed, except a Palestinian student who gave his name as Omar Darwesh who said the protest is a moral obligation.

“Today actually marks the 200th day of this genocide, and we're here to say no more,” said Darwesh, a senior studying sciences and public health. His family is from the West Bank.

Omar Darwesh, a senior at the University of Rochester whose family is from the West Bank uses his laptop to follow coursework in his public health class.
Max Schulte
Omar Darwesh, a senior at the University of Rochester whose family is from the West Bank uses his laptop to follow coursework in his public health class.

The student group organizing the demonstration, Rochester Students for Justice in Palestine, is calling on the university to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

“One hundred ninety-nine days ago, they should have called for a ceasefire. They should have just advocated that they want people on both sides to stop dying,” he said. “What is so terrible about that?”

The student group also is calling on the university to cut ties with Israeli institutions for things like study abroad programs.

This comes amid escalating student protests in support of Palestinians on college campuses in New York City and elsewhere.

At the encampment Tuesday, Felisha Buchinger, a community organizer working with the students, said the current demonstration was in response to a call from students at Columbia University where more than a hundred pro-Palestinian protesters have been arrested in recent days.

“These institutions are who train our next generation of leaders, our next generation of workers in our communities,” Buchinger said. “We can't just let their voices be suppressed.”

Juliet Sullivan, an academic advisor at the university, stopped by the encampment Tuesday morning.

“This looks to me like a very peaceful demonstration,” Sullivan said. “Half of my family is Jewish. I'm not seeing anything that appears even vaguely antisemitic to me, which has been a concern at other schools. But I believe in our students, I trust our students, and I believe in the right to free speech.”

Students at the University of Rochester set up tents early Tuesday morning on the Wilson Quad in front of the Student Union. The students plan to remain in the encampment to protesting the war in Gaza.protesting the war in Gaza.
Max Schulte
"Free Palestine" is written in chalk outside Wilson Commons at the University of Rochester.

University of Rochester’s communications department published a memo Tuesday afternoon regarding the encampment stating that participants must be university students, and that students must relocate any tent in an area designated for campus activities — like this weekend’s Springfest event.

“These ground rules are subject to updates and changes based on evolving circumstances; any updates will be clearly communicated,” the memo states. “While we affirm our commitment to our students’ ability to peacefully express their viewpoints, our priorities are protecting the safety and well-being of our university community members and guests”

In November, University of Rochester president Sarah Mangelsdorf and provost David Figlio authored a letter to the school’s community in response to earlier protests.

“We affirm students’ choices to criticize Israeli or Palestinian actions or US policies toward Israel, as well as students’ choices to criticize the University’s actions, policies, and practices,” they said.

The university leaders outlined policies related to protests and demonstrations, citing a Nov. 17 protest that they said largely abided by the student code of conduct, with the exception of reports from community members on campus that a particular slogan or chant invoked fear of harm and violence against Jewish people. They did not specify what that slogan was.

“It was the interpretation of the call for physical harm — regardless of the speaker’s intent — that differentiated this particular slogan,” they said. “We encourage peaceful conversation among members of the University community about how they are experiencing the devastating loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives, and other difficult issues that will continue to arise in our world.”

Darwesh said he and other students plan to remain at the encampment until further notice.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.